Following safety rules that help prevent the spread of foodborne illness is important year-round, but during the hot, summer months when people are celebrating with outdoor picnics and cookouts, it pays to be extra careful.
“Bacteria that causes foodborne illness thrives between the temperatures of 90 and 110 degrees, which makes our foods more susceptible to contamination” said Amanda Horn, a Registered Dietitian and Family & Consumer Science Educator for the Oklahoma County OSU Cooperative Extension. “During outdoor picnics and cookouts, people’s hygiene habits may also be more lax as they get into the spirit of fun and celebration and perhaps forget to wash their hands as often as they need to or leave food out too long.”
Summer cookouts can be a breeding ground for all types of bacteria, but Horn stressed germs will have less of a chance if a few appropriate measurements are taken.
Cooking meat to the proper temperature is an important factor for having a safe cookout. “It’s very important to use a meat thermometer when cooking out”, Horn emphasized. “Meat may appear done when it really is not. Using a thermometer not only tells you the meat has cooked enough to be safe from bacteria but also lets you know it hasn’t been overcooked.
Horn listed the following as safe minimum internal temperatures for cooking meat: ground beef, 160 degrees; steaks, 145 degrees; poultry, 165 degrees; and hot dogs, 165 degrees (steamy hot all the way through).
“Just because hot dogs are precooked doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be heated,” Horn said. “They too need to spend some time on the grill. It’s possible for them to be contaminated with listeria, which can cause a form of foodborne illness. Use a meat thermometer to determine the internal temperature so you know it is safe for your family to eat.”
Another important aspect of food safety is keeping perishable foods chilled. “When using an ice chest, first make sure it is clean. Use plenty of ice and try to keep the chest in a cool place and restock ice when needed”, Horn said. “Not restocking with ice is a common mistake. Usually one bag of ice will not be enough to last all day.”
You also need to be aware of how long the food is left out. Perishable foods should not set out for more than an hour when the outside temperature is above 90 degrees or for more than two hours when the temperature is less than 90 degrees, Horn stressed. It is important to clean up as soon as everyone is finished and throw away any leftovers to prevent bacteria growth, she added. “Even if you are cooking outside and not in a kitchen, it is still important to keep food safety in mind”, Horn said.